MONROE, NJ - There are only few things in life more important than friendship.

That’s why - 14 years ago - life-long friends Melissa Macwhorter, an Academy Learning Center (ALC) teacher, and Abbe Fleming, a fifth grade teacher at Woodland Elementary School, created a special day to bring together two schools from Monroe Township. 

As part of the Education Services Commission of New Jersey (ESCNJ), ALC offers comprehensive programming for pupils with autism or multiple disabilities. 

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The day is always filled with friendship-building activities that help create relationships among the diverse group of students.

“We’ve had such an incredible friendship over the years and now we can help foster other incredible friendships between our students,” said Macwhorter. 

During their most recent visit, students played a variety of games and activities together - including badminton with balloons. They also created art projects entitled, “It’s Snow Cool to Make New Friends,” in which each student decorated a snowman with a word that reminded them of friendship. 

Words such as “nice,” “thoughtful” and “kind” were suggested, among others.  They ended the day with a group lunch, eating, chatting and learning about each other.

“All of these activities are designed to encourage communication and interaction between the students,” added Macwhorter. 

Creating friendships is only one important part of this day. The other important aspect of this joint meeting is raising awareness around autism. That is why a brief orientation is given to the students by ALC Principal Dr. Erik Solberg, with a candid discussion about autism and multiple disabilities. 

After the yearly visit, Woodland students become “Autism Ambassadors” and educate other students in their grades 4-5 school during Autism Awareness Month in April. 

“Our visits back and forth are always such a rewarding experience,” said Fleming. “We are so grateful to the Academy Learning Center for welcoming us each year, and teaching us the importance of tolerance, compassion, and the true meaning of friendship.”

ALC students will soon visit Woodland School for another fun-filled day of activities.